In the final days of September, protests in Raleigh turned destructive as downtown businesses and government buildings suffered multiple nights of window-breaking and property damage.
Thinking a curfew of 11 p.m. would allow people to express their views but also get people off the streets, Baldwin implemented a citywide curfew. Once again, however, Baldwin was late in responding or didn’t respond appropriately. The mayor’s curfew failed to stem the violence.
Am I being harsh on the mayor? First let’s backup. I am not questioning that racial injustices have occurred in this nation. They have. We as a nation must face that and work every day to make this country a better place. How we have that discussion has taken different forms, including marches and violence in the streets in cities across this nation. Am I being harsh on Mayor Baldwin? Maybe if I would have been writing this in early summer. But since then Raleigh has had multiple nights of rioting. She’s not new to this drill.
On Sunday morning, September 28th, Baldwin gave this statement on the previous nights’ rioting:
We do not have the ability nor would we want to stop people from assembling peacefully and speaking but there were those, mostly white, who used this as an excuse to incite violence and cause destruction of our downtown business community …Any message of support for Breonna Taylor was usurped by protestors who do not care about peace. They came here with the goal of destruction.
If you watch the video of Baldwin, she looks surprised, mildly angry and taken aback by the happenings of the previous night. I find her anger oddly misplaced; she seemed more concerned with lending her support to the peaceful protestors and calling out a violent “mostly white” element than she was in protecting citizens and businesses in the state’s second largest city.
The “mostly white” assertion Is intemperate and only adds gasoline onto an already volatile racial situation. It’s also false when you view pictures of those arrested on the evening in question.
Mayor Baldwin seemed genuinely surprised at how peaceful protests had been hijacked by more radical groups. If she truly is, she is more naïve than surprised. Social media and the internet have been abuzz with radical national organizations planning demonstrations and events across the country. To be unaware of the activity and its potential impact on local demonstrations is inexcusable.
In her defense, Baldwin has said she has responded to developments quickly and vowed she “won’t stand by.” A review of the facts says otherwise. The mayor was a day late in calling for a curfew to stop the riots in Raleigh in early June. She ordered mandatory curfews several times in Raleigh over the past few months. However, the curfews have not been uniformly enforced. Businesses have been told to close early and citizens are told to be in their homes. In the meantime, they watch protestors and rioters in the streets of Raleigh violating curfews and damaging property and not being arrested. Citizens ask: why are there two sets of laws?
Baldwin shared the difficulty she had in deciding to call for a curfew last week. She said she had to weigh the rights of individuals to assemble and protest and her responsibilities to ensure the safety of citizens and businesses. The mayor seems to forget some unpleasant memories and displays a lack of creative problem-solving. Her actions beg some questions. Considering all the damage to property has occurred after dark, why didn’t’ the mayor say she would only approve a permit for a daytime march? Also, why not approve a march permit for outside the downtown area? Nothing prohibits it. Doing so would ensure downtown businesses incur no more additional damage, but also respect the constitutional rights of marchers.
The North Carolina municipal code spells out the duties of the mayor of Raleigh. A close review shows them to be rather pedestrian; preside over city council meetings, keep council members informed of city business and report to citizens about the condition of the city. It’s a part-time job. All most people want the mayor to do is keep city services running and businesses and neighborhoods safe.
However, like her progressive brethren, Baldwin envisions the Mayor’s role as much more than it is. Her plans are grandiose. Baldwin says “we (city council) want to bring our community together.” She wants to work toward the goals of equity and safety for people of color; she wants to work together with those who want peace. Those goals are laudable but also big and sometimes nebulous. Again, the goals may be laudable, and something we should all work toward but are they the responsibility of the mayor?
Baldwin’s aspirations and missteps are costly and haven’t inspired confidence; and they didn’t start yesterday. After two straight nights of rioting and looting in early June, editors at the News & Observer opined, “the city appeared to have no plan beyond hoping for the best. The police appeared to have no tactic beyond sending smoke bombs and tear gas canisters skittering along the street toward groups that disbanded and formed elsewhere.”
Businesses are increasingly jittery about city leadership. When asked if business leaders support Mayor Baldwin’s response to the pandemic and civil unrest, 72.1 percent said no, and 27.9 percent said yes, according to an August 2020 Greater Raleigh Merchants Association poll .
Anyone who walks down Fayetteville Street in Raleigh will see boarded-up windows and closed buildings. It’s a jarring site, produced by nights of rioting and failed responses by government leaders. Baldwin’s advocacy and inflated view of city government has put the property of citizens in danger. She has forgotten her and the government’s core responsibility. It’s time for Mayor Mary Baldwin to decide if she wants to be an activist or mayor.